CHICAGO – Forget about former Notre Dame goalie Cal Petersen joining the Buffalo Sabres. The 22-year-old prospect, who left school last month, will elect for free agency, general manager Jason Botterill said Friday morning.
“I don’t believe he’ll be signing with the Buffalo Sabres,” Botterill said hours before the first round of the NHL Draft.
Botterill said he knew he could lose Petersen, a fifth-round pick in 2013, because he didn’t draft him.
“I enjoyed interacting with him,” Botterill said. “I think he’s a very professional young man. I certainly wish him all the best in his career and stuff, but we always knew that was a possibility. Disappointed, but we’ll move on.”
Before former Sabres GM Tim Murray was fired April 20, he said Petersen could start for the Rochester Americans next season.
The Sabres, of course, can trade Petersen’s rights. Murray acquired winger Jimmy Vesey’s rights a year ago after the Harvard product refused to sign with the Nashville Predators. Vesey, however, elected for free agency and signed with the New York Rangers.
Petersen enjoyed a terrific junior season in 2016-17, going 23-12-5 with a 2.22 goals-against average, .926 save percentage and six shutouts in 40 games. Notre Dame reached the semifinal of the NCAA tournament.
The Iowan ended his college career with 90 consecutive starts, the fourth-longest streak in NCAA history. Overall, he went 55-39-15 with a 2.30 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage in 110 games over three seasons.
The Sabres still have at least one strong goalie prospect in Linus Ullmark, an AHL All-Star with 21 games of NHL experience.
Botterill swung a side deal with Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee to leave the unprotected Ullmark and some other players alone in Wednesday’s NHL Expansion Draft. Botterill believes the price – he exposed winger William Carrier and sent a sixth-round pick – was worth it.
“Certainly did not want to lose Will, a young player that brought energy we wanted to continue to develop,” Botterill said. “But it’s an expansion draft. You’re going to lose a good player. It was a scenario where after the conversations I thought it was worth putting a sixth-round pick to protect some other players on our roster.”
For now, goalie coach Andrew Allen is still with the Buffalo Sabres. Botterill wants to keep the lone holdover from former coach Dan Bylsma’s staff. That decision, however, will be left up to new coach Phil Housley.
“It’s a situation where we’re very excited about Andrew,” Botterill said this morning prior to the NHL Draft. “My plan has always been to work with Andrew. It’s a scenario where Phil and I have to make a final decision.”
Allen’s goalies often speak glowingly of him.
Housley, Botterill said, has been interviewing candidates for his staff.
Botterill also said he has talked to coaches for the Amerks’ vacancy. He said the assistant GM he hires for the Sabres will be their AHL GM. Randy Sexton, an assistant GM with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Botterill’s old club, will likely fill those GM roles, according to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun.
Speculation over 28-goal winger Evander Kane’s future has only intensified with trade activity all over the NHL. Even with one year left on his contract, Kane could fetch the Sabres a notable return.
Is Kane on the market?
“Look, we’re always looking at different ways to improve out team,” Botterill said. “But Phil Housley has had some great conversations with Evander already. We know how talented a player he certainly is and from a scoring aspect. … He can certainly be a force.”
Kane tweeted a picture of two wide eyes and an ear Friday.
“I do not read Evander’s Twitter,” a smiling Botterill said following the first round of the draft. “Did we have some good stuff today?”
Botterill on why he acquired puck-moving defenseman Nathan Beaulieu from the Montreal Canadiens for a third-round pick Sunday:
“He’s a player that wants to play the way Phil wants to play, can get up the ice, competes hard, is aggressive all over the ice,” he said. “It’s no secret we’ve been looking for to add more depth to our defense corps. We’re excited about bringing him to the group.”
Botterill said he would like to draft a goalie this weekend.
“There’s always a situation in the draft where you’re trying to find a goaltender, but you don’t want to force the issue with it,” he said. “There’s a couple goalies we feel comfortable with.”
With Petersen out of the picture and Ullmark possibly ready for some NHL duty next season, Botterill probably has to acquire another established goalie for Rochester.
Blackhawks anthem singer Jim Cornelison belted out the American and Canadian versions before the draft started. The United Center didn’t break with tradition, roaring throughout the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
As is tradition, the crowd booed Gary Bettman when he walked to the stage to start the draft. Bettman thanked the fans for the booing, then said, “You can do better than that!”
The crowd booed more.